Cloudy Sunday

It’s Labor day weekend, a time to kick back, enjoy some BBQ with friends and/or family, relish well earned relaxation. Work for me is very fast paced with very little time for breaks, so I grasp tightly to my time away from work, try to squeeze as much out of my free time as possible. Besides spending time with the people in my life, free time also means doing the things I love to do, all of which require nice weather. I want to get out on my bike, play some tennis, swim, do all the things that make my body happy.

The thunderstorms rolled through during the night. I am looking out over my balcony at a dark day. It’s going to be a lazy day.

If you like hummingbirds, by the way, you would have enjoyed the treat I just received. They love the flowers I have planted in the pots and planters on my balcony. Hummingbirds don’t care if I am present. As a matter of fact, they almost always pause to hover in front of me, the buzz of their beating wings loud while they check me quickly out. I think they may be saying thank you. They are taking a little break in the trees in front of my house right now, their visit with me over. It’s about to start raining again, so I may not see them again today.

The squirrels also like my flower boxes and pots. They have destroyed quite a few of my plants. I have tried using plastic forks and chili sauce to keep them away, but the squirrels eventually get wise to my tricks. The fuzzy tailed ratfinks just jump in the pot and push the forks to the side.

My body does need a break today. Yesterday, I played a league tennis match against a young guy who was intent on winning. I had to really work if I wanted to win. Yes, I wanted to win. Competitive is part of my personality. Our league matches are ten game pro sets, which means the first player to win ten games wins the match (win by two, with a tie breaker if both players win ten games). I went up 4-1 early, but Karl fought back to tie the match at 5 games each, then he took the lead 7 games to 5. I have a very powerful serve with a lot of top spin, and I think that serve wore Karl down mentally. I won the last 5 games to take the match, 10-7.

After the tennis match, I received a text message from my friend Jim, a road biker who has had the itch to ride dirt lately. He said he would be at the trail head in 30 minutes, asked if I wanted to ride. I did. I changed into my riding gear, through my Salsa (mountain bike) on the back of my car, met Jim for a gut wrenching two hour trail ride.

The day capped off with a BBQ with friends. The host grinds his own hamburger meat and treated us to a creation that included chopped jalapeno peppers, gouda and goat cheeses, garlic mixed mayo, and a ton of seasoning. The burger was wrapped in lettuce and tomato, on a toasted brioche bun. I had brought baked beans with a thick, sweet sauce and chopped bacon mixed in. The beans and some potato salad added to the enjoyment of the juicy burger, so juicy that everyone had to eat hunched over. We were outside. Each person had a puddle of burger juice underneath them! The hostess also brought out a cold bottle of lemoncello to pass, so our palates were cleansed with the strong drink. We enjoyed some time outside on the patio, huddled around a fire table, then finished off the evening with a spirited game of mexican train dominoes. Fun!

So, I guess I will take it easy today. I skipped church, for once, chose pillow prayer instead. It was a good morning to do that and my body complained with each feeble attempt to swing my legs over the side of the bed.

Enjoy your weekend!

Tennis, anyone?

Tags

I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of the current state of our world, what with the pandemic and all, but I want to say that as long as it is warm outside, my life really isn’t all that different. Warm weather is a time to be outside, to bike and play sports and swim and walk and sit outside with friends and mess with my flowers (that is not innuendo). Yes, there are no concerts or summer movies. Dating is different during this time, although right now going out to eat is more fun simply because most restaurants have improved their patio areas.

Dating is more different for me pandemic or not. At 59 years young, dating is not what it was when I was in my teens and twenties. It’s better. Women are different in a much better (wink wink) way than they were way back when. It’s fun.

I’m saying the word ‘love’ a lot this summer. The condo community I live in has a tennis court and there are a lot of residents who play. There has been a doubles tennis tournament the last three summers, and I have been lucky enough to have won two of the last three tournaments. The first tournament was won with my son as my partner, last year with one of my best friends, John. John paired up with someone else this year, since my son was my partner for this summer’s tournament. He and his partner squeaked by us in the tournament final, beating us in a tie breaker after being down to us 4-0 in the set (the tournament was played with each match being only one set). This summer, we are also playing a singles league. There will be a season finale tournament with seeding based on each player’s season record. Each match is a ten game pro set, with the winner of each match the first to win ten games.

The singles season started last Saturday. I ended up playing a lot, was at the courts over four hours. It was hot. At one point, I had to be cooled off with a leaf blower (it was a joke, a very welcome joke). I won my first match, 10 to 4.

I have played tennis 3 out of the last 4 days. For those wondering, yes, I did manage to get a sweat soaked ride in on the day I didn’t play tennis. The person who set up the match pairings ranked me high, since I have done well in the doubles tournaments. I tried to tell him I don’t have skills, that my success is due to my choice of partners, but he didn’t listen. That means that two of the three matches I have played have been against the best players in the league. I won 10-0 last night, then lost to the player tonight who will likely win the league, 7-10. He had me down 8-1 at one point.

The matches last Saturday were a blast. Most players showed up early, watched the others play, stuck around and played more when the scheduled matches were over. Residents came out to watch. The guy I played even brought his own fans!

We’re having fun. I am going to hate saying good bye to warm weather in a few months. I always do.

Slowing

It’s just after dusk, the light of day losing it’s grip in the western sky, the chirp of insects mingling with the quiet of the approaching night. A determined storm front passed through a few hours ago, the damp still clinging, the cool air that followed it in making me want to stay outside. Alas, the mosquitoes welcomed me as the juicy meal they always crave, my warmth attracting them even through the fog of the insect coils I have lit on my balcony. I couldn’t last for long outside, the sting and itch as the bloodsuckers feasted on my feet and ankles.

I am yet the barefoot boy, fighting for that last bit of play before being called inside.

My son asked me to play some catch with him yesterday, a literal throwback. I couldn’t help but think of the days when he used to wait for me to get home from work, baseball gloves out on the driveway when I pulled up. It has been nearly three years since I have thrown a ball. I quit playing three years ago when my back quit recovering in between games. But the arm was still good yesterday, the satisfying pop of the ball in my son’s glove as he caught my throws a bit of a surprise. We had a great time just throwing the softball. Sports have always been the way we have bonded. This summer has reminded of that, what with yesterday’s game of catch, the hours of tennis we have played the past few months, even the night at stock car races we enjoyed together last weekend.

You should play again, Dad.

Maybe I will.

Walking On Sunshine

I was working feverishly, as I always do, nose to the grindstone, paying little attention to anything else.  Out of the corner of my eye, a notification popped up on my cell phone, an instant message.  Ready for a break, as I always am, I grabbed my phone to check the message.

Steve!  I got some news for you.

It was a message from the president of the condo association.  What in the world did she want?  Since it was news, it was pretty safe to assume that I wasn’t in trouble (again).  While it was true that my notoriously nasty nemesis neighbor had been stepping up her complaint game as of late, I knew the board wouldn’t take her serious again, so that could not be the reason the board president was contacting me.  I decided to take a wild guess with my reply.

My downstairs neighbor sold her condo?

She did.

No way!!!  No joke?

Nope!  On the phone with property management now.  There is a contract.  They did the inspection today.

I was speechless.  No words.  Overcome with utter thankfulness and joy, I jumped up and danced like a wild man.

BAM BAM BAM WAIL WAIL WAILSCREECH

Oops (not).  Terrible Teresa was home.

The questions started swirling. Was it really true? How soon until the closing? What was the price? Would I be able to restrain myself from causing trouble?

A quick internet search revealed that the sale was a contingency, price around $3000 less than what she was asking, about $25,000 more than what I paid for my place (both good and bad — tax wise it could affect the assessed value of my own home, but it meant the equity in my home is very good right now). There was no closing date available. I frowned a little. The sale could go south. The closing could be months away.

That was June 18. Today is July 7 and I have had a new neighbor for over a week. He’s a single guy, in his sixties, gregarious and laid back. I couldn’t have picked a better neighbor on my own.

I knew something was up. Teresa really had been upping her complaint game, making a wimpy fuss when I had friends over, slamming doors and yelling. Whenever she left her condo, she played mariachi music full blast on a Bluetooth speaker — which prompted me to flip the main breaker to her condo a few times a day. She banged on her ceiling every time I moved.

I guess that’s why I didn’t feel guilty when I started taunting her to work harder and faster on the packing (please), every time I walked past her front window or door. It’s possible I learned a few Polish curse words. I definitely heard them. She screeched them at me as she slammed doors and windows. When I walked past her door, I let out a loud WOOHOOOOOO THE WICKED WITCH IS DEAD. Each time I saw her outside, I asked her when the closing was, asked her if the date could be expedited. Imagine my satisfaction when her response was to point to her backside. When she propped hallway doors open while she was moving things from her condo to her garage, I instantly removed the brick or rock. Her garage is next to mine, so if I went to my garage and she was in her garage, I made sure I encouraged her to pack faster.

Which is probably what prompted her actions for our last encounter.

I came home from the grocery store, pulled my car in my garage. Teresa and her husband were outside packing boxes into the back of his pickup truck, the truck backed halfway inside. As I shut the hallway door to my garage and was locking it, she screamed at me and slammed her garage hallway door. Life was very good. I dropped off my groceries inside, the walked across the driveway in front of her garage.

Thanks for giving me another reason to be glad your are leaving.

She freaked. She started screaming at me in Polish. I stood in the driveway, arms crossed, a huge grin on my face.

LEAVE LEAVE LEAVE LEAVE she wailed at me, threatening me as she took her shoe off and shook it in my direction.

You’re an insane b####. I have three years of your torture to get out of my system. I am enjoying this… when are you finally going to be gone?

Teresa stomped in my direction, started screaming in my face, spitting in my face, pulled her fist back as if she was going to hit me. That was when her husband came around from the back of the truck. He gently put his hand on my shoulder and led me away.

Steve, you’re a better man than this. Leave her alone. Be satisfied in knowing that Teresa is going to be an emotional mess for the rest of the evening.

And that was it.

I’m not too proud of myself. OK, I shouldn’t be too proud of myself. I am a Christian, after all. It was not a WWJD few days for me. My behavior showed me I have an awful long way to go on my journey towards spiritual maturity… light years long ways.

For now, I am celebrating, literally walking on sunshine, the stress of living in my home no longer a reality. The wicked witch is dead.

presence

I have written about the times in my life when I do not feel close to God, those seasons where a sin or a painful circumstance causes me to feel distanced from God.  They are real, genuine, times where honesty is required simply to allow me to put aside what is keeping me from approaching God.  I feel filthy, unworthy to be in the presence of unfathomable purity.  God reminds us of that purity in many places in the Bible — Moses at the burning bush and on the mountain where he received the ten commandments, in the way the tabernacle and temple was set up, when John had the vision of the throne.  I can not put together the words to adequately describe why I think that is so.  I know it is that purity, character, perfection that gives God that indescribable power — a power that seems endless to me (and it is, indeed, endless).

Yet I am unique out of all creation in that God wants me to approach him, to be with him, and desires my presence.  He wants me to be with him even though I am flawed.  I know God is aware of those flaws, but those flaws are not what he focuses on.  During this time when my son is living with me again, I understand that a little better.  The kid does things that do not please me, has habits that clutter and dirty my home, yet I really do want him around.  He belongs with me, is my child, and I am happy that he wants to be with me — especially when he does.  I like seeing him grow, learn, progress toward becoming that someone I know he will be some day.  He is my son, after all, and I chose him by becoming his father.  God created me for a purpose in that same way, created this world for me and intends much more for me that I can see right now.  This world isn’t what God originally intended for me, just as the world I have set before my own son isn’t exactly what I intended when I was a new father.  I am happy when he sits with me, seeks me out, when I can see that he recognizes what is good about me, and I am satisfied when I see a little bit of me in him.  It’s OK for him to ask me for things, but sometimes I just want to know that he wants to be with me.  God intended for us all to be with him.  Too often, I forget that he is my father, am intimidated by who he is.

This morning, I needed to sit with God.  That is a challenge to me, as I think it is an obstacle to many people, whether a person chooses to believe in God or not.  Think about it, sometimes we just need to be able to sit down with God and actually see him.  I need to see him looking at me, need to hear him talk to me, be that physical father, give me that one on one face to face.  When I read The Shack, I understood a little more of that craving, liked the way the author reminds us that in reality we can sit with God.  We just don’t know it’s happening in our limited sphere of existence.  So this morning, as I felt God calling to me to come close as he does so often when it’s time to worship — and I think that’s what my own personal time as well as church worship really is — a call to come closer and sit with him.  So, what did I do this morning, when that call to worship is limited by this quarantine?  When my presence in church is electronic rather than going to a building to come to God with other people?  In a lot of ways, corporate worship is more personal during this time, even as it strangely is shared with a suddenly enormous church (which is awesome, a reminder that it has always been that way).  So what did I do?

I pulled off into the parking lot at Warrenville Grove forest preserve, connected to my church through my phone and watched/listened via Bluetooth inside my car.  I was in nature, in the place God created for me, and suddenly his presence was so much more evident to me.  Worship was incredible, the swelling flood of the river close by and the newly green trees right there.  God was right there with me.  All it took was for me to get out of my little sphere, meet him in a different place, let him see that I wanted to be with him.

So many things keep me from being able to approach him.  Sometimes it’s fear and anxiety.  Other times it is my flaws and dirt, my sin and my awareness of it.  There are times when I am angry, when I don’t want to be with God.  Or maybe I just feel like I am getting what I want from God, when I am asking and don’t understand why he doesn’t hand it over, so I stop talking.  Talking to God can also be overwhelming, intimidating, and I just don’t know what to say, so I don’t go to him.  I don’t understand that during those times he just wants me to listen.

Listen.  When I know he is there, it’s a little more easy to do that.  I am a father, but I am also a son as well, so I understand this one.  It took me a while, a bit of maturing, before I learned to appreciate just listening to what my dad has to say to me.  I know now more than ever than I need to hear what he has to say to me, not worry about what I think, simply…. listen.

This morning’s online service was on prayer and I wonder if being in the car, knowing that God was there, helped me to listen a bit better to what was being said.  I have been a believer for more than 50 years now, so what else could I learn about prayer?  Seriously.  I should know it all by now and have it down to perfection.  Pffffffffttttttt.  I don’t think so.  My dating and marriage relationships prove that being exposed to something for a long time doesn’t mean that I am going to have any more of a clue to what they are about.

In Acts 12, Peter is put in prison and the church prays in earnest for his release.  An angel comes to him at night, wakes him up, frees him and walks him right past the guards out of the jail.  Peter doesn’t believe it’s really happening, assumes he is dreaming it all, even as the angel guides him through iron gates that open for them, takes Peter to the front door of where the people of the church are praying for them.  When Peter knocked on the front door, the woman who answered the knock heard his voice through the door and excitedly ran into the room where the people were praying, announced Peter was at the front door.  What did the praying people say?  You’re out of your mind.  They didn’t believe that their prayer had been answered.  It was too unbelievable.

I hate to admit it, but I pray far too often with doubt.  I ask and pray because it’s what I am supposed to do, but I don’t really believe that God is right there, smiling and me, listening.  When a prayer is answered, so many times I don’t realize it because I didn’t really believe it when I prayed.

Today I listened.  God said See, I am here.  He was right there and I knew it, was ready to hear what he said, ready just as the thousands of people waiting with me did as well.  He taught this old dog something new.

OK.  There is my Sunday sermon.  Soon, I will get back to reporting on bike stuff and share more stories about my crazy neighbor.  There is plenty of that.

Remembrance

What do you do on Mothers’ day if your mother has passed?  Visit her gravesite?  My mother was cremated, although Dad did make sure she has a marker at the cemetery.  Her marker is a two and a half hour drive away, so it’s not really practical for me to make the drive to visit her that way.  The best way for me to celebrate my Mom today came in a few simple forms of remembrance.

A lot of things remind me of my mother.  That mother’s day is a holiday celebrated on a Sunday is appropriate for my mother, simply because she was always in her element when she was at church.  My family rarely missed a Sunday service, partly because Mom was a gifted pianist and organist, so she played for services nearly every Sunday.  Church was and is still something that we all enjoyed, a way of life for us that went beyond just going to church.  Mom (and Dad) lived what they believed and church was just an extension of that faith.  So, as I worshipped this morning (online, of course) my thoughts were drawn to my mother.  She may be the biggest reason that I am a Christian.

IMG_20200510_114613854Food.  Lots of children talk about the meals their mother cooks for them.  One of the things my mother did for me when I moved out of the house was type up the recipes I enjoyed the most, put them in a card file for me to keep.  Today, I cooked one of the more simple meals she used to prepare for us, a sour cream noodle bake recipe that is absolutely delicious.  I think I am going to remember her every mother’s day by preparing one of her recipes.  I smiled with each bite!

Mom also recorded several CDs of her playing the piano, just for her family and friends to enjoy.  I have many memories of her playing, the hymns and favorites flowing from her fingertips, more often than know an extension of her heart.  I like to say that my brothers and I went to sleep each night when we were young listening to our mother pray — her music was simply her way of pouring her heart out to God.  Anyone who has listened to her play knows that.  After the often difficult days of dealing with my brothers and I (and sometimes, Dad, her other boy), she needed to unwind, needed to spend time letting her soul speak.  Music was the best expression of her heart, a true gift, and I think I understood more about her as I matured simply because I listened to her music.

There were tears today, but I am enjoying remembering her.  Friends tell me that the memories are not as strong as time passes.  I am not so sure of that.

Happy day to all.  I hope it was a good and blessed day.

 

Essential

Like the majority of the people I know, I am working from home and have been since the middle of last month.  For me, the only real adjustment was staying home five days a week, instead of the one day I was accustomed to.  My commute to the office is 37 miles, one way, with $6.00 total tolls a day, so this is a time that I am enjoying.  Other people I talk to, not so much appreciation for the isolation.  Aside from not being able to work overtime, which I need to make my budget, there has been very little in terms of suffering for me.  On the contrary, this time has been a blessing for me so far.  I think I have communicated that here already.

I realize it’s not the same perspective for everyone.  I may even be in the minority.  Plenty are laid off, not being paid, stressed from financial worry or hunger or sickness.  This is not an easy time, could get worse.  Part of the whole difficulty is just plain not sure of what is in store for us or how much worse this whole situation will get.  Life as we know it has changed, some components of change could be permanent.

Life for me really isn’t that different.  This time of year, I am always waiting for the weather to change, am excited for the extra daylight each day.  Every day without precipitation is a bike day for me and I love it.  No one is making me stay away from riding.  Nothing has changed in my two wheeled world.  Adding to my bliss are the trail conditions at my favorite bike park — pristine trails nearly every day.  Needless to say, I am feeling like I am ahead of schedule on the bike, riding faster and stronger than I usually am this time of year.  A pig in s#@* has nothing on me.  The bike I bought last year still feels new to me, mainly because last season was so wet, so discovering the joys of riding a carbon frame are adding to that bliss.

Speaking of that carbon frame, I experienced a very frightening event last Thursday while driving out to the trails.  My son has been asking to ride with me, so I bought some new flat pedals and put them on my fat bike (the 9Zero7.. such a sweet ride).  The fattie was stuffed in the back of my Subaru, my Salsa perched on my Yakima hitch rack.  When I put the Salsa on the rack, I noticed that the swingarm felt ‘mushy’ as I swung it over the front wheel.  Eager to get going and on our way, I didn’t pay it any mind.  I should have.  Driving at 70+ mph west on I-88, I looked in my rear view mirror just as the bike disappeared from sight.

Alarmed to the n’th degree, I must gasped so deeply that I sucked all of the air out of the inside of my car.  My son had the same reaction.  He has learned to appreciate the value of that Salsa bike, so he was just as scared as I was.  I edged the car over to the left shoulder of the tollway, relieved to see in my side view mirror that the bike was laying flat on the bike rack.  How much longer that would be the case, I didn’t know.

The swing arm had rusted through at the bottom, had broken an inch from the bottom.  It didn’t break completely, so somehow it was still holding the front wheel.  The strap on the rear wheel tray was still holding the rear wheel in place.  I had been extremely lucky.  Nervously, I removed the bike from the rack, started to put the bike on the rear of the rack, only to notice that the bracket for the rear wheel tray on that part of the rack was beginning to rust away.  Unsure, I decided to try it there any way, leaned on the bike after it was secured, hoped the rear portion of the rack would not break.  If it did, the result would be a very nice bike tumbling down the road behind my car.

We made it to the trails.  My son followed me in without hesitation, rode to the back of the park with me, then asked me if it was OK if he rode on his own for a while.  I understood.  He wanted to explore and get comfortable on his own.  So I gave him instructions on how to find the parking lot if he got lost (the road is THAT way — point that direction if you get lost).  I took off, rode the park by myself for 90 minutes, met him at the parking lot, rode the front trail with him.  It was a blast for the both of us.  I have happily created a new mountain bike junkie.

The trails were packed with people, a lot of families getting out together.  It’s been that way nearly every time I have been to the trails in the past month.  I think it goes without saying that bikes are essential during this time, as are the outdoors and exercise.  If anything positive is coming out of this time of quarantine (there are many positives), it’s that families and individuals are once again getting out together.  This time could bring this culture back into a healthy perspective.

Oh.. and Yakima is staying true to their lifetime warranty on the bike rack.  With little to no hassle, and with a very prompt response, they are replacing the rack.  It was an expensive purchase, so I am very satisfied that I don’t have to buy another rack!

Three

I don’t know what direction tonight’s write is going to take me.  Heh heh heh… maybe in the write direction?

Bad, bad, bad.  So sue me.

Quarantine cabin fever got the best of me a few minutes ago, a fog created by a combo of excessive amounts of pizza (courtesy of my son, who might be getting a bit tired of eating my cooking) and the completion of a season three Ozark binge watch.  I decided to climb in my Subaru for a drive, just to clear my head.  Stay at home, work at home has me in the house from the time I crawl out of bed until I clock out remotely.  The commute to my couch is a short one.  With the weather still cold and mostly dreary here lately, I haven’t turned the pedals since last week, so I just need to get out.

In the last two and a half weeks, I have used a quarter tank of gas.

The winter chill is about gone, judging from the cold yet refreshing air that strolled into my garage as the garage door raised.  I backed slowly out, stopped for a moment in the drive to pick out some music on my phone – the atmosphere in the cockpit improves if the tune fits the mood (Huey Lewis’ new stuff was the choice).  My Subaru growled a bit while it pulled slowly away, as if it too was glad to get out from the confines.  Neither me nor my car was in a hurry.  We just wanted to enjoy the temporary freedom.  Huey Lewis crooned a gravelly tune….

Do you remember when, not so long ago, all we had was time?  And the future was the last thing on our minds.  What a time.

My mind wasn’t gravitating towards carefree memories of my youth, however.  Cabin fever wasn’t the only motivation for getting out of the house.  I needed to face a memory, take a short pilgrimage of sorts.  I live about a mile from my former house, the house I lived in with my wife for 22 years, where our children were born and raised.  I needed to see that house today.

Three years ago, I stood in the driveway of that house, tears streaming down my face, my then sister-in-law hugging me while she told me it would be ok, my soon to be ex wife driving off as she fought the emotions of leaving that house for good.  We had closed on the sale of the house and our time of separation began.  That night, I would sleep in the spare bedroom of the condo unit I was about to buy, perched on top of two mattresses and two box springs (I never felt the pea) with a pathway cleared from the tower of bed to the door through all of my things stuffed in that room.

I am not wallowing in pain or pity tonight.  I am not celebrating, either.  No one should celebrate that.  March 31, 2017 was the day my life as I knew it ended.  It changed in an instant.

It is what it is.

The Subaru growled compassionately as it guided me slowly past that house.  The journey wasn’t what I expected.  The journey was a tribute of sorts, a reminder.  I think I need to remember the pain, the excrutiating emotional stress, the exhaustion that was a constant companion the months that preceded that day.  Maybe I just needed to be reminded of how it felt when that weight lifted off my shoulders as I drove away that day.

My friend, John, reminded me today that so much has changed since that day.  There truly is much to be thankful for.  I think I will take that trip past my old house this day every year, a reminder that beauty comes from ashes, strength from not giving up.

I wonder what I will write next year?

Contrast

Contrasts are often what make life more interesting.  I live in northern Illinois, just west of Chicago, a place where weather often provides that very contrast, with one day cold, the next a surprise of warmth.  If you aren’t familiar with the Chicago area, you know that contrasts are not just characteristic of the winter months, it’s a year long experience.  Last weekend was a good example, contrasts in weather an excellent thing.  As a cyclist, it was a marvelous thing.

Saturday morning arrived early for me — early as in 5:30 AM.  Don’t get me wrong, I am capable of sleeping in, mining the bedcovers until 8 AM or so, but the morning promised to be sunny and pleasant.  Visions of rideable trails had graced my dreams all night, prompting me to wake up ready to go.  When I went to bed Friday night, I realized that it was a real possibility that I could ride dirt in the morning, if and only if I woke up early enough to ride the trails before they thawed.  Instead of cocooning under the blankets, I popped out of bed, looked at my phone to check the temperature outside (20 something degrees).  The forecast for the day was sun and warming temperatures, so I donned my winter riding clothes, rushed out the door to put the bike rack on my Crosstrek, mount the bike on the back, and roll out to the trails.  To say I was a tad bit excited to get out for a real dirt ride is an understatement.  I was a kid in a candy store.

FB_IMG_1583803320042There is something magical about the first ride of the year, as well as a cold morning in the woods, the quiet as wonderful as the blue skies surrounding the trees around me.  I arrived to new views.  Over the winter, the park district spent a lot of time clearing the scrub out of the woods, so much that the space had opened up.  Not only that, but a new trail head (or trail AHEAD) sign had been erected at the trail head.  I was the only rider in the parking lot, unbelievably the only one who had anticipated the freeze/thaw effect on the trail.  I knew that in another hour or two, the trails would begin to thaw and become unrideable, so muddy that riding the trails would be dangerous and damaging to the trails.  But when I arrived, they were frozen, pristine, ready for me.

I felt great.  Don’t get ‘great’ mistaken with ‘fast’.  This was not a fast ride, this was a joyful ride, a celebration and welcoming of the new year.  The fast rides are to come.  With the changes to some of the trails, open from the cutting done by the park district, it was like riding a whole new set of trails.  There was exploring to do, discovery, one trail so different that it was difficult to find.

FB_IMG_1583803326841I finished my ride 90 minutes later, happy and satisfied.   I paused to take a picture of my tires and posted the picture on the rider group FB page, a warning that even frozen trails had left my tread caked with wet dirt.  Even at 9 AM, the trails were beginning to thaw.  I warned that the trails would not be rideable the rest of the day.  The temperature was nearing 40 degrees, the sun beginning to warm the earth.

My whole day was stretched out in front of me, my ride accomplished.  There was so much I could do.  I arrived home, picked up trash along the berm in front of my condo, cleaned the house, put together a shopping list, set out my agenda for the day.  By one o’clock, I was done, ready to take a nap, prepare for my evening.

It was glorious.

Sunday was even better.  Talk about contrasts?  The temperature was above 60, sunny and windy.  I went to church, had breakfast with a friend, napped for an hour when I got home, then went out to the garage in my bike shorts.  Yep… another ride was in order.  This time, I knew that I would see soggy trails, so I rode the fat bike and set out for the crushed limestone trails close to my house.  IN SHORTS!!!  I relaxed again, music playing through my phone in the pocket of said shorts.  This was going to be a long ride, at least four hours.  I planned to explore, find new trails, rediscover old trails.  At one point, I decided I didn’t want the music any more, so I stopped, pulled the phone out of my pocket to turn the music off.

That pocket also had my debit card and license in it.  Do I need to say more?  I stopped about two hours into the ride, just as my cell phone was ringing.  It was the police.  Someone had turned in my driver’s license.  Yep.  Note to self — never put my license in the same shorts pocket with my phone.  What could have been an anxious tragedy turned out to be a minor inconvenience.  I had to reroute to get to the police station in order to retrieve my license.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed a beautiful ride through marshes and woods, a strong jaunt that proved my legs still have a lot left from last season.

I feel good, so much so that the time change had no affect on me at all today.  I arrived at work an hour early, even survived a violent thunderstorm on my way to work.  It was a busy day, one of those Mondays where lunch came so fast that I couldn’t believe it.  Tonight’s weather wasn’t so pleasant, once again a contrast, yet not a surprise.  I live here.  I expect the weather to change quickly.

I hope all who read this enjoyed the same type of weekend.  It was a good one!

Work From Home

In case I haven’t announced it, I started a new job last August.  After five years working out of an office that was ten minutes from home, I took a job working for a company that is a 37 mile commute.  The adjustments required were instantaneous, as well as gradual, if that makes sense.  My personal schedule went from casual to necessarily regimented, including getting up much earlier than I was accustomed to each day.  My previous job required me to be in my seat by 8:30 AM or so.. give or take a few minutes.  If I was late or early didn’t matter.  Suddenly, I needed to be in my seat, prepared to go, at precisely 7:30 AM.  My new job is a product support position, a call center of sorts, which means I need to be available and accountable for all of my time, log off a call log when I use the restroom or take a lunch break.  For five years, my work life was very relaxed.

Part of the adjustment has been financial.  I took a $6000 per year cut in pay, by necessity, because my previous job couldn’t pay me any more.  My last month of employment at that job was at half pay.  When I took the new job, my commute cost me quite a bit more, as I take the tollway to work (almost $6 in tolls per day) and the gas costs tripled.  I pay my ex wife close to $900 a month and couldn’t afford to go to court to have that amount changed, so I am paying the same amount.  My lawyer suggested that I talk to my ex wife to see if she would accept less money (yeah.. right.. no way has she agreed to that).  Three days before I started my new job, my VW bit the dust and I had to buy another car, which added more expense.  Federal taxes last year hit me with a wallup, so I had to put nearly $5000 of the additional tax, plus $3000 of property taxes, on my credit card.  Financially, it sucks to be me.

Financially, I know that seasons come and go.  I am old enough to realize that.  Ain’t no thing, even as I worry through the tough season.

When the company I work for introduced a work from home option at the beginning of this year, I jumped at the opportunity.  For a trial period of three months, I get to work from home one day a week.  The understanding is that I have to prove I am able to do it, am able to handle the responsibility.  Temptation can be to goof off.  Some can’t handle the responsibility, need the office to present the discipline needed to work.  Working from home is not for everyone.

Today was my third day working from home.  I pack up my laptop every Wednesday evening as leave the office for home, set it up in my home office when I get home.  I have an old 48″ TV set up on my desk at home, a comfy old executive office chair.  My view is the berm outside the back of my condo.  The way I am set up, I log in, clock in via a remote badge reader, connect via VPN to all of the online tools I use when at work.  I log on to the phone system, take calls as they come in just like I am at my office.  Someone commented today that there is no way to tell I am working from home.  I like it, since the commute is far shorter.. about ten feet rather than 37 miles.. and far less expensive.  This morning, I logged on at 7 AM, went right to work, the day so busy that I barely left my chair (except for lunch) until my shift was over at 4.

Years ago, I didn’t have the discipline to pull this off.  Judging from my production the last three weeks, it looks like working from home has improved my work output.  Success!

Oh… and I do like the change in wardrobe that working from home allows…..